I met Imzadi Diaz ’26 standing outside Mary Lyon. When walking to her room, I understood how an artist could feel inspired by the dorm’s scenic backyard. Mary Lyon looks like a cottage — not a college dorm. However, when Imzadi opened the door, the walls on her side of the room were noticeably empty. Then I looked down. It was hard not to detect the brightly-colored 10-or-so paintings on her bed. Each piece showcased different areas of the campus. Yet, they all brought me to a realm distinct from Swarthmore: a place saturated with dreams…and nightmares. When I asked her about her series of observational studies, she replied, “I sat in the corner of my room, next to the window, and painted my view. I wanted to include my plant and the outside of ML.”
But, Imzadi didn’t always draw from life. In fact, for most of her artistic career, she focused on copying photos. She started drawing in the summer of 8th grade. Previously, her counselor advised that art was a waste of time and pushed science instead. However, after sketching a hyper-realistic eye that stunned her family, she decided it was time to take art seriously. She enrolled in an art class upon entering high school, quickly earning praise from her school’s art department. Her teacher submitted three of her works to a state-wide competition in Texas known as VASE (Visual Arts Scholastic Event). In the juried contest, she received the highest ranking for every piece.
“I used to be extremely detail-oriented. I needed the photos for precision,” Imzadi said. “But, in college Professor Exon encouraged us to draw from life. It was definitely difficult the first few times.”
It became clear that Imzadi’s vision has shifted since she came to Swarthmore. Taking Painting I: Drawing into Painting, she realized that art isn’t solely about accuracy. “[Professor Exon] was very accepting of all styles of art. He encouraged us to be original — he wasn’t the ‘model.’ He told us that he didn’t want us to paint as he did, he wanted us to find our own, unique vision.” She started her fall semester with hyper-realistic cranes and paint buckets and ended it with abstract brush strokes.
I couldn’t help but notice one similarity in her pieces now strewn across the floor: nature.
“I focused on the beauty of nature,” Imzadi said. “It’s crazy how much of our life revolves around it…I think people tend not to appreciate it as much as they should. Nature’s one of the main reasons why I came to Swarthmore. I wanted to immerse myself in a lush arboretum filled with beautiful plants. It’s inspiring.”
“Professor Exon brought us into the woods to draw from life. I was starting to move away from details and towards…my emotions.” Something was captivating about the ethereal reflection devouring most of the page, with the abstract foliage being the brightest aspect of the painting. Her brushstrokes are less blended and more abrasive, which makes the piece more realistic. Nature is imperfect, so a representation of it should be as well. The first time I saw it, I was unsure what the actual reflection was; ambiguity is a prevalent theme in Imzadi’s work.
“I’m taking Painting II: Figure Composition this semester, and I’ve been exploring with my reflection. I don’t know, I love nature paintings, but I’m also interested in a bit of horror. I guess it began with this cake painting I did.” I chuckled when I first saw the knife threatening the innocent chocolate cake. There was something inherently disturbing about the stalking shadow shrouding the knife. It made me wonder whether it was really for cutting a piece of cake. That subtle, horrific element keeps the viewer’s attention on the surrealist painting.
Despite her willingness to explore more offbeat subjects, one of Imzadi’s artistic challenges has been releasing her inhibitions.
“Never compare your art to anyone else’s,” Imzadi said. “Compare your art to your own. Art should be what’s true to you. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing it. When you feel inspired, make what you want to make and say what you want to say. Your art should be different from others’.”
Rather than feeling like an obligation, she insists that art should be fun. Now, upon finishing pieces, she embraces when they come out differently than originally intended. Art is a journey, and Imzadi is prepared to take the trip.
“Currently, I’m interested in stylistic exploration. I’m changing my brushstrokes, exploring with pointillism, and just seeing what I enjoy.”
The exercise is liberating for Imzadi, and she’s willing to try different techniques, subjects, and colors…because why not? When I asked what was next in her ever-growing portfolio, she smiled and replied, “skulls and skeletons…bones.”
Though Imzadi wants to fine-tune her anatomy skills, she’s taking figure composition for more macabre reasons — inspired by her Harley-Davidson-riding dad and her favorite show, Bones.
“My mom’s the one I get the love of nature from, and my dad is into skulls, bones, all of that stuff.” Even in her more traditional works, edgy elements inevitably seep through. It was hard not to notice the angsty splotches of oil paint in one painting, depicting her black combat boot stomping on the textured pebbles.
Though Imzadi didn’t particularly showcase her brushstroke exercise, it stood out to me because I felt intense emotion hidden in the thick oil paint. She had diverged from the structure she initially held on to, with the piece as evidence of her breaking point. I felt hope, in the warm speckles of yellow, obscured by the navy waves of tradition. It was beautiful and horrific. Somehow, she encapsulated her artistic journey in a few quick layers of paint.
After I viewed Imzadi’s diverse portfolio, I was surprised to learn that she’s considering a computer science double major. She insists that computer science is artistic and sees the potential for a masterpiece in mere numbers. Her repertoire extends further: for instance, she combines her passion for art and scientific prowess to assist in theater lighting. Oh, and did I mention that she also crochets, plays clarinet, and dabbles with photography in her free time?
“I do everything art.” Imzadi sees creative possibilities in what others may consider impossibilities.
As a first-year at the beginning of her second semester, Imzadi doesn’t know what her future holds. However, she’s sure that she will continue creating, inspiring, and exploring her endless imagination. And in the meantime, she’s embracing the search for her authentically creative voice.
Photos Courtesy of Imzadi Diaz